So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 3, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
Freddie Kitchens’ adjustment period
We talked a ton about the Browns this offseason. It felt like we hit everything. However, one storyline their 1-2 start is revealing that went under-discussed is that of their top dog, Freddie Kitchens.
Coming out of 2019 we knew a fair bit about Freddie Kitchens the play-caller. His aggressive and modern style of play brought life into the Browns long-dormant offense and helped elevate Baker Mayfield to an instant success figure. On the other hand, we knew exactly 0.0 about Freddie Kitchens the head coach. He was not the man behind the controls of the entire operation during Cleveland’s successful run to end 2018. That was Gregg Williams.
So far, the two sides of the man have struggled to coexist. It’s not easy. The head coach gig takes an inordinate amount of time and demands much of one’s personality. It takes some adjusting and it would be no shock if Kitchens isn’t finding it easy to juggle all of that with his duties as the play-caller for an offense that appears to be stuck in the mud.
Too often on Sunday night, the Browns felt out of place for the moment. All while struggling to pass protect for the third straight week, the offense asked Baker Mayfield to drop deep back into the pocket. He would inevitably have to bail. Run calls felt ill-timed and worse yet, Kitchens left the game with two timeouts in his back pocket after a turnover on downs with less than 30 seconds left.
The Browns have clear flaws but so far, their team just feels off. The scoring unit was supposed to be their strength but they have yet to adjust to their current reality. Kitchens may need to have a look in the mirror soon and consider handing off play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator. Todd Monken and the head coach may have clashed in the offseason but he’s a proven success as a schemer and play-caller. Use the resources you have around you.
There is way more than enough time for the Browns to fulfill all the promise that their offseason remake foretold. In order for that to happen, Kitchens needs to ask some hard questions of himself.
Daniel Jones brings life to the Giants
I have to watch a lot of football for this job. I’m not complaining. It’s a dream. However, having to track all of these teams comes the inevitability of having to consume some truly hideous football.
So with that in mind, even if you’re going to be bad, I ask but one thing of my 32 beautiful little children: I just need you to be interesting.
The Giants with Eli Manning have been one of the most relentlessly uninteresting teams for the last three years. Overdiscussed, without direction, and thoroughly dull on the field, they were a tortuous watch. The Giants with Daniel Jones, on the other hand ... they suddenly look fun.
The rookie quarterback brought a downfield element that Manning had long sucked the life out of several years back. His 9.8 intended air yards per attempt ranked top-10 heading into Sunday night. Manning had been under 7.5 since 2017. Jones was fearless and opened up areas of the field the veteran simply cannot. The sixth overall pick also showed he can bring another layer of a ceiling with his legs. He took off running in scoring areas and punched in two touchdowns. You have to think Pat Shurmur feels truly free with him behind center over what’s left of Manning. Jones showed more fantasy upside in one start than Manning has at any point in his career, mostly thanks to the rushing threat.
The Giants aren’t untalented in the pass-catcher corps. It’s probably the strength of their roster. Sterling Shepard showed today why he’s a key player. Evan Engram is taking his game to the next level. Golden Tate will be back soon. Daniel Jones brings intrigue and production potential to a Giants offense that’s lacked it for years.
Kyle Allen reminds us what’s true about the Panthers
It was obvious to anyone that tracked the Panthers offense that this unit had drastically changed. Carolina had finally assembled a great set of weapons for Cam Newton with Greg Olsen healthy, Christian McCaffrey reaching stardom and breakout receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel about to explode. The offensive line had also been refortified with the signing of Matt Paradis in free agency and the drafting of Greg Little in Round 2.
All that was unfolding into reality through the first two weeks. The injury to Cam Newton just masked it as he tried to play through it.
As soon as Kyle Allen hit the field in Week 3, it was all revealed. The Panthers offense truly erupted. Both wide receivers scored and cleared 50 yards receiving. Olsen went for 75 yards and found the end zone twice. Christian McCaffrey did his damn thing with 188 total yards.
Of course, Arizona’s defense played a factor in just how loud the boom was, but these players earned this one. All of the weapons shined and Kyle Allen played inspired football. Making plays under pressure and thriving with accuracy at all levels, Allen showed he can hang in the league.
It may not be the start of some great “A Football Life”-style myth, but Allen should get more looks. His play today hopefully gave a coaching staff on the hot seat the confidence to ride him for as long as Cam Newton needs to get back to 100 percent strength. Allen needs to play until the very moment Newton is right. Completely.
Devonta Freeman keeps the buy window open
The sheep will certainly look at Devonta Freeman’s bottom-line fantasy totals and shake their head at a sub-100 total yards, scoreless effort. Be a wolf here.
Unlike the previous two weeks where Freeman was completely bottled up against two stout fronts, the veteran back looked swift against the Colts. He averaged 5.5 yards per tote and caught three balls. He got extra run with Ito Smith out with an injury.
Freeman isn’t going to be a true workhorse but you didn’t pay for that in drafts. He looks like a high-end RB2 who is capable of good weeks when facing a cake matchup and when his offense clicks. The Falcons look like a team lost in the wilderness but we should come out of Week 3 feeling good about Devonta Freeman.
Not only did he give us optimism but because he didn’t go crazy, he left the buying window open at least a crack for a bit longer. Take advantage of that before it shuts.
The Eagles injuries
After coming into this game without their two top receivers and injuries hitting the defensive line, the Eagles suffered more blows. At one point Jason Peters and Andrew Dillard were out at the left tackle position and Derek Barnett gone from the defensive line.
The Eagles looked like a clear-cut Super Bowl contender and a powerhouse offense. There is still more than enough time for both to be true here in 2019. However, one has to ask how much this squad can endure.
For the time being, as the Eagles lick their wounds and try to work back to full strength, it’s time to adjust. Not only do we need to slice bigger pieces of the pie for offensive ancillary players like Nelson Agholor or Mack Hollins, we also need to take down the ceiling projections for this entire offense.
5 Things I don't care about
Packers offense continues to look average
Perhaps you’re disappointed in what we’ve seen out of the Packers offense. You may have come in with overexcited expectations. It was obvious that the offense under Mike McCarthy had long gone stale in Green Bay. That didn’t mean the change would instantly bring about a massive turn around.
Through three games the Packers offense has yet to fire on all cylinders. Outside of one strong quarter of football, they’ve looked like a volatile unit with flashes of brilliance but one that’s still lost in the wilderness. It’s worth noting that this Denver Broncos team was by far their lightest competition to date. The Bears and Vikings are strong inner-division defenses that can put the clamps on the opposition. Through the course of three games, the still sack-less Denver Broncos defense looks like a league-average unit. A bit better of a showing would have been nice.
Yet, even if this is frustrating for fake footballers, it’s great for the Packers. Green Bay is off to a 3-0 start mostly on the back of their defense, which is clearly one of the most improved units in the entire league. They are relentless and diverse up front with several breakout players in the secondary, led by wildly impressive rookie safety, Darnell Savage Jr.
While that side of the ball thrives, one would have to imagine the unit navigated by a Hall of Fame quarterback will find itself soon enough. Patience is advised. Winning while asking for patience is a good way to stifle the cries of frustration.
Chiefs’ backfield talent
Let’s break this one down a bit. Most of the intrigue around Darwin Thompson, some propagated by yours truly, was just grabbing any piece attached to the NFL’s most thrilling offense. After all, Thompson was not some highly-regarded prospect. He was a late Day 3 draft pick. Perhaps some analysts like his talent but that does not always win out in muddled backfields. What matters most is what coaches think and how that impacts the distribution of work.
The fantasy community bought into Thompson based on what we thought Andy Reid believed about Thompson’s ability — based on preseason statements. Should we not react even stronger to what we saw happen today as the coach’s backfield crumbled in Week 3? With Damien Williams on the shelf and LeSean McCoy coming in banged up and exiting early, it was Darrel Williams that led the team with nine carries and caught five passes for 47 yards. Meanwhile, Thompson collected just eight yards on four touches.
Williams not only got the opportunity when chaos struck the Chiefs backfield, but he produced with it. Maybe it’s just a blip, but we need to not straight ignore it.
Mike Evans buy-low victory laps
Fantasy analysts the world over reminded you to buy low on Mike Evans. Victory laps were taken. That’s fine. We’re here to have fun and being right is fun.
What’s more important to me is the process that got us there. Not just the metrics but the idea. The air yards signals were all there pointing toward Evans as a strong buy. He was still getting the volume of a top-flight receiver despite just 89 yards through two games. More importantly, we all know Mike Evans is a good player. We’ve seen him be productive year after year while offering a unique skill-set. His talent wasn’t in question and nothing about his place on the depth chart or his opportunity had changed.
Sometimes a slow two-game stretch happens. This is football, things (sub another word here) happens. When it’s happening to a good, proven player, as long as the situation hasn’t changed, we can trust he’ll find his way ... perhaps even within the same game you’re tilting over.
While swinging a W around on Twitter about the specific case of Mike Evans isn’t something I care about, I do care about applying the principles that led us there to other players. We need to decide if the “situation hasn’t changed” idea applies to someone like a Stefon Diggs.
Lamar Jackson’s “slow day”
If any “Lamar Jackson the passer” doubters try to poke their head out of the grave they’ve been forced to lie in the last few weeks, kindly redirect them back beneath the dirt. Do not give them an inch.
Jackson struggled on deep passes today, as Next Gen Stats tells us. After posting a 140 passer rating on throws of 20-plus air yards in Weeks 1 and 2, Jackson went 3/12 for just 79 yards with a 54.5 passer rating on Sunday. After a strong opening drive, the Ravens offense went quiet for a just a few moments in the second quarter and as often happens with the Chiefs on the other side of the field, they suddenly found themselves in a 23-6 hole.
The Chiefs defense isn’t just better than the Dolphins and Cardinals. It’s a legitimately solid unit that’s built well with two strong pass rushers and a big addition in Tyrann Mathieu on the backend. It’s built to play with a lead. It was a tough challenge for Jackson, especially in the aggressive confines of Arrowhead, and all told, he fared well.
Jackson fought the Ravens back within just one score and did a ton of damage with his legs. That dimension can’t be overlooked. It’s valuable. It’s a wrinkle that a passer like Jared Goff, for example, could only dream of adding. Our view of Jackson amid a promising second season should change zero percent after today.
The Rams’ identity of old
The Rams teams that lit up our televisions in the 2017/2018 seasons feel quite a bit different from the one before us this year. Los Angeles is 3-0 but it’s not on the back of dynamism on offense; they’ve yet to clear 30 points.
So far in 2019, the Rams defense has been the better of the two units. The stop unit is much improved, especially up front. The pass rush has harassed the Panthers, Saints, and now the Browns for three-straight weeks and has been the key to all three wins.
Clay Matthews has looked well worth the low-risk deal the Rams handed him and notched two sacks against Cleveland. Wade Phillips is doing wonders scheming stunts and twists to get Dante Fowler advantageous runs at the quarterback. Aaron Donald is still breathing. Even better, the secondary is carrying its weight this year with Eric Weddle playing inspired football and the cornerback corps healthy.
Much has been made of surprise rebound units like the 49ers and Packers defense to start 2019. They deserve the credit but don’t overlook the transformation that occurred in LA. We need to readjust our projections for offenses playing any of these groups going forward. The new reality dictates that.